Black Noon, Blue Eveninghttps://i0.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/IMG_0340.jpeg?fit=3668%2C2417&ssl=136682417Marshall MooreMarshall Moorehttps://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/997ea1985ff46ecd388079652666f15b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
Cold makes me anxious. Eastern North Carolina, where I grew up, doesn’t get cold much. There was a blizzard once. Three feet of snow fell. No school for a week. It was white heaven. Thing was, our house hadn’t been built to hold that much extra weight. The foundation buckled. My parents had to take out a second mortgage to have the timber support beams replaced with steel ones. But I was too young to understand those risks and expenses then. The fear came home and unpacked its bags a couple of years later when a prowler came scratching on a neighbor’s window one icy night. The girl, home alone, called us screaming for help. My mother grabbed her gun and charged out into the dark, telling me to lock the door behind her and not let anyone else in, no matter what. The next morning, the cops found the dead, bedraggled body of a woman frozen into a nearby pond. No mention was made of a gunshot wound. My mother denied shooting her but there was a certain twinkle in her eye.
My first college apartment was the back half of a 1930s bungalow in Greenville, on Biltmore Street. The street name invoked historic mansions and the rusty electric strip heaters on the moldings invoked the fire station when they melted brown holes in the poly-cotton blankets that fell off our beds onto them. That was when I began to notice the numb patches in my fingertips. The way my hands slowed down and stopped working. Little feeling. No grip. I dropped things a lot and still do. It gets worse in cold weather. When the pilot light in our furnace went out one winter afternoon, the temperature in the apartment wafted grimly downward. Down, down, down, and my hands locked up, and I had to call someone from work to stop by and help me light it again. I couldn’t strike a match or flick the ignition wheel on a lighter. My flatmate and I could see ourselves exhale. Even with the furnace working again, that house never really got warm.
Northern California, the first of the places where I spent my thirties, is notoriously chilly. For much of the year, the maritime fog that refrigerates San Francisco also snakes across the bay and cools the patch of Oakland where I lived. The heated towel rack in my bathroom kept my apartment warm on the brisk days. Now and then in those high-summer winters, I’d turn the radiator on. This entailed twisting the knob back and forth to see if anything would happen. After a few minutes, the thing would hiss if I did it right. Clanks and groans would ensue, followed by welcome heat. But I didn’t do that often. The towel rack did most of the work. The problem, to the extent there was one, concerned placement, not noise or money: I began to worry it was too close to the commode. Was I drying myself with piss-misted towels? Some thoughts need to die in the back of the mind. I couldn’t move the thing, so I sat down to pee and closed the lid when I flushed. The apartment stayed as warm as I needed it to.
Now, when I look out toward the horizon, the chilly midday pall puts me in mind of Seattle: hazy shapes left behind on a blackboard that’s just been erased. My Seattle years were drizzly and grey, best left half-forgotten. At this time of year, the sun doesn’t really come out. Like my cat, it’s in hibernation; it naps behind clouds. Seattle, like southwestern England, is mild in the summer. Balmy. The chief difference between these two places, up till now, has been the direction in which the rain falls. In the Pacific Northwest, it drifts down. In the pointy little corner of the UK where I live now, it slashes sideways or pelters down in frozen form, little white pellets the size and shape of rabbit shit. It was darkish at noon today and the sun set around four. Seattle’s on the other side of the world, but I’m not sure I ever really left. It’s a matter of gradation. I was warmer there too.
It’s frigid in this house. The wave of Arctic air blanketing Britain has everyone blue and shivering under duvets. There’s snow here in Cornwall. It doesn’t snow here often. My nose won’t stop running and the cat hasn’t budged from his heated bed since breakfast. A Persian, he ought to be insulated against these extremes. His behavior suggests the opposite, though. Faint ripples in his fur indicate that he’s shaking. I turn the heat up. The grinding hiss of the radiator, not the alarm clock, woke me this morning and yesterday: sudden tension, the sound of pound notes on fire. Even though we keep the thermometer set on 15c and the space heater on low, I’m worried about the next power bill and the ones after that.
Although cold has always left me feeling hollow and uneasy, teetering on the edge of mortality, I’ve never liked heat that much either. My parents designed the house I grew up in, the one with the foundation that almost killed us, to be powered by renewables. Back in the ‘70s, this made them eccentric, not progressive. The wood stove could heat the whole place except in the coldest months. We also had heat pumps and fiberglass insulation. There was talk of solar panels but they were exorbitant then. Every so often, during eastern North Carolina’s rare icy intervals, we’d bring the kerosene heater up from the basement. The house smelled like a runway in the morning and so did our clothes but we didn’t asphyxiate in the night; and the utility bills, my mother boasted, were next to nothing. Those pink swathes of insulation scared me, not the bills I never saw. Don’t touch that stuff, warned my parents again and again. The fibers will break off and embed in your skin. You’ll have to go to the doctor. Stay away from it. That was scary.
In my twenties and early thirties, I developed repetitive strain injuries in my hands, shoulders, and neck. I was a sign language interpreter. That’s one reason I left the profession. Most of the time, most of me ached. I saw any number of physical therapists, massage therapists, even a chiropractor. They gave the same advice as my trainer at the gym: alternate heat and cold. Ten minutes of one, then ten minutes of the other. Sure-fire remedy for strains and inflammation. I’ve been alternating between extremes for quite some time and should therefore have been purged of all stresses and tensions. I should be insulated from headlines about energy price caps and warm banks, about what leftovers from the North American bomb cyclone will do to the weather here. I’ve lived in five US states, the District of Columbia, and five countries now. Part of the calculus you make before a big move is whether you’ll be better off in the next location, but the wind is screaming and I’m coming unhinged. Another gust, and the house creaks. In most respects, I’ve come up in the world, or closed a great circle. But everybody’s talking about their bills and nobody’s talking enough about the cost. There are bodies frozen into ponds here too and the temperature keeps dropping.